Sunday, March 19, 2023

Baseball in French, Lesson 4: La Balle Glissante

Welcome to Baseball in French, Lesson 4. Previous lessons can be found here.
Today's term is la balle glissante.
In English, that translates to "slippery ball". What's the baseball translation?

Here's a guy who had a pretty mean slider, sporting the Expos colors on his 1989 O-Pee-Chee rookie card. 


Johnson didn't have much command of his pitches back in those very early days, but by the close of his career he'd collected more than 300 wins and nearly 5,000 strikeouts. Let's just say he figured it out.
As for the baseball terminology, I think slippery ball is pretty accurate and descriptive. The pitch does tend to slip away from the strike zone. It's kind of a silly term too, which isn't a bad thing. But if I were a French-language baseball commentator, I think I'd get tired of saying "slippery ball" after a while. Besides, the term can evoke more of a spitball than a slider, don't you think?

What are your thoughts? Leave a comment below, and thanks for reading!

Sunday, March 12, 2023

Completed Set: 1988 Score Baseball

1988 was one of those memorable years in the baseball card world. The hobby was booming. Rookie cards were all the rage. Topps, Fleer, and Donruss were churning out cards by the million. There was probably at least one retail source nearby that you referred to as a "local card shop". Baseball card shows were being held at hotels, VFW halls, firehouses, and shopping centers on a weekly basis. And on top of all that (or maybe as a result), a new trading card company jumped into the game.

A year before Bowman's resurrection and Upper Deck's inaugural release, and three whole years before other premium brands like Stadium Club and Ultra appeared, it was Score who stepped up to the plate. 
Here's how you would have found their cards on store shelves back in 1988:
That purple Don Mattingly card on the box top is the first card in the set. But it only tells part of the color story. Score used six different colors for their card borders in this set, which, if displayed in 9-pocket pages, makes for a very colorful binder.
The colors weren't randomly assorted, however. Neither were they designated by team. Instead, Score decided to make things nice and numerical.
Each color was assigned to 110 cards, consecutively. And because there were six different colors used, that makes a complete set of 660 cards. Here's the rundown:
1–110 = purple
111220 = blue
221330 = red
331440 = green
441550 = yellow
551660 = orange

Interestingly, that same color progression appeared in packs. You'd get roughly three cards of each color, also consecutively. So for example, the pack might have started off with three purple cards in a row, then three blues, three reds, three greens, three yellows, and two oranges for a total of 17 cards. This might seem like a good idea for distribution, but it actually led to some pretty crummy collation issues. If you tried to put a set together the old-fashioned way—buying a box, opening all the packs, and then sorting the cards by number—it was a killer. You'd get lots of duplicates across those packs, and even some repeated trios. (How do I know this? Personal experience. I'll leave it at that.)

The player images on the cards also show evidence of repetition, as you'll see next. I wonder if Score's executives had a conversation with their photographers that went something like this:
Executives: You know what, guys? It would be really cool if you could take some photos that show hitters at the moment they're making contact with the ball.

Photographers: Done.
Executives: And maybe you could do the same thing for pitchers, just as they're releasing the ball.

Photographers: Done.
Executives: Ooh! And pitchers throwing the ball right into your living room.

Photographers: Done.

Executives: And we've got to have some photos that show hitters taking a really big cut at the ball.

Photographers: Done.
Flip through the entire 660-card set and you'll see many more examples like the ones above. Too many. 
There were also some unfortunate runs that showed practically the same image, card after card. For example, #516 through #523 are all pitchers, all captured at some point in their throwing motion. So there were some growing pains with photography in this inaugural set. Along with the photo repetition, there were also some niggling typos and name misspellings throughout the set. It's to be expected, I suppose.
However, Score did pay attention to some of the finer details, and they definitely deserve credit for that. For instance, relief pitchers received an "RP" designation on the front of the card, instead of just a "P" for pitcher. That's pretty cool. Check out these three RP studs.

Outfielder designations also varied. Some players received the standard “OF”, but other outfielders who were more established at a specific position were noted. Have a look at these three guys, for example.


So it's not all negative, by any means. In fact, I think Score had a very good debut. The card design is clean. The images are crisp. That very thin white border that's inside the photo frame is a classy design touch. Most of the time the players were framed very well inside those borders, and there are plenty of good action shots that don't follow the templates shown above. Take these, for example.



And Score did capture some star players of the day doing things they were known for. 


Then we get to the back of each card. It's where Score really shines.

Not only do you have a full-color headshot (a step above Fleer's card backs of the '80s), but look at all that descriptive text! Right from the start, the copywriters at Score were masters at cramming in a lot of player information. It's often interesting information as well.
Here's the text from Bo Jackson's card, in larger print:
Bo, who has awesome power, a fantastic arm, and blazing speed, sizzled at the start of 1987, his first full season in pro baseball, and gave fans a hint of his immense talent.
That would be plenty of content for most card backs of the day. But for Score? Not even close. It continues.
In a three-game series against the Yankees, he got on base 10 of 14 plate appearances. In a game against the Tigers, he hit a three-run homer and a grand slam (his bat broke but the ball still went 410 feet). In a game against the Twins, he hit the longest home run of the season in the Metrodome, a 466 footer. Bo topped off the year by playing with the Raiders as a “hobby” in the off-season. “Bo has more natural ability than anyone I’ve ever seen,” said hitting coach Hal McRae.
The awesomeness of Bo was made quite clear. But wait, there’s an ENTIRE SECOND PARAGRAPH.
Bo played only 79 college games at Auburn, where he was the 1985 Heisman Trophy winner as a tailback and the NFL’s no. 1 draft pick. In a surprise move, he signed with the Royals in ’86 to play baseball rather than football. After a slow start in the Double-A Southern League, Bo batted .388 in his last 40 games. Brought up to the Royals in September with only 53 pro games behind him, he awed everyone with his prodigious power and blinding speed (3.7 seconds from home to first, the fastest time in baseball). “Bo has so much ability, it’s downright scary,” said teammate Frank White. “You don’t see that combination of speed and power in many human beings.”
And it wasn't only phenoms like Bo Jackson who received detailed write-ups like that. Just about everyone did.
Score also dipped their toes into the "rookie craze" waters, devoting space toward the end of the set for 25 consecutive rookie prospects on a modified card design. Here are the three biggest prospects of the group.

If you were a kid who had a penchant for organization, you would have loved having all your rookie prospects lined up one after another in your binder.

As for subsets, Score had just a few of those.

Reggie Jackson had just finished his stellar career, and Score produced a few tribute cards. There were five in all, each card documenting one of his MLB stops: A's, Orioles, Yankees, Angels, and A's again.  

Then there were a few combination cards that featured stars of the day.  

And finally, a few cards at the very end of the set documented highlights from the 1987 season.


Score did take note of how popular subsets were, however, and added even more in years to come. (Remember the Dream Team, bighead cartoon all-stars, K-Man, and No-Hit Club subsets to name a few?)

In every pack you'd also get one of 56 different "great moments in baseball" mini lenticular cards. Fans of Sportflics will have been familiar with the look of these.

The great moments range from the previous year all the way back to 1920.
Interestingly, however, there are no checklist cards or team leader cards in this set. 
Just as interestingly, card #439 of Jeff Robinson seems to be the only posed shot in the entire set. That's it. No headshots. No batting poses. No fielding poses. Just one pitcher's pose. I guess Score was early on the whole "ACTION SHOTS ONLY!" idea.

So that's 1988 Score. Overall, it was a pretty solid introduction. Crisp photos, eye-catching colors, great write-ups on the backs. And it's still affordable 35 years later. I have some really good memories of collecting cards from this set with my stepbrother when we were kids, and of the excitement that came along with a new card company. I'm happy to have finally completed it.

What are your thoughts on Score's first attempt at baseball cards? Share in the comment section, and thanks for reading!

Sunday, March 5, 2023

Blog Bat-Around: The Alphabet Challenge

For this week's post, I'm going to take a swing at a blog bat-around started by Nachos Grande a couple of weeks ago called "The Alphabet Challenge".

Simply put, you take all the letters that make up your blog's name, and choose a favorite baseball player whose first or last name begins with that same letter.  Here's Nacho Grande's version. And here's an entry from John's Big League Baseball Blog. There's also one from The Collective Mind. And from The Angels In Order.

Because I'm a fan of both baseball and hockeyand because those are the two sports that dominate my trading card collectionI'm going to modify the rules slightly, using a mix of favorite athletes from both of those sports.
Here we go:

Nemchinov, Sergei 
Back in my college hockey days, Mr. Nemchinov was a player I tried to model my game after: responsible defensively, ability to read plays and players, can contribute a little on offense, too.
Fun fact: He and Alexei Kovalev were the first two Russian players to have their names engraved on the Stanley Cup (1994 New York Rangers). Nemchinov also has the distinction of playing for the Islanders, Rangers, and Devils across his career. He was on every side of all those rivalries!

I was a big fan of Ichiro during his career. He was such a highly intelligent, supremely talented hitter and fielder. Not to mention the speed. Or playing well into his 40s. Also, check out the Baseball Thrill on the card to the left. So many consecutive 200-hit seasons.


Neely, Cam
The handshake line on the card to the left tells me that Mr. Neely and the Bruins have just finished dispatching the Hartford Whalers from the playoffs. Being a power forward, there's no doubt that he put up some points and laid some hits during the series, too. In fact, after looking up the results from the 1989-90 playoffs, the Bruins defeated the Whalers 4 games to 3 in the first round, and Neely totaled 4 goals, 6 assists, and 10 points to lead all Bruins in scoring during the series. He added 27 penalty minutes, which also led the team. Now it looks like he's already focused on the next round. And if that face looks familiar, the following video clip might explain why.

Elias, Patrik 
Patty was a classy player, and classy guy. Wihtout making too much noise, he totaled more than 1,000 games played, scored more than 1,000 points, and was a big part of two Stanley Cupwinning teams in New Jersey. I always appreciated how smoothly he skated and how solid his edgework was. (He probably could have been a world-class downhill skier if he hadn't played hockey). Growing up in the New York/New Jersey area meant I had lots of opportunities to watch him play on the MSG Network, and I thoroughly enjoyed that.


Prado, Martin
Recently I saw an SUV on the road called a Prado, made by Toyota. I guess that's why I had Martin Prado's name in mind. He was an excellent player for quite a few years with the Braves and the Marlins, batting over .300 for a few seasons. Overall, his 1,500 hits, 100 home runs, a slash line of .287/.335/.412, and an All-Star game selection is nothing to shake a stick at. The guy had a pretty good glove at third base, too.


Ordonez, Rey 
Back in the early 2000s, I remember reading an article from a baseball writer who lamented Ordonez's lack of hitting ability. He said he'd rather have a borderline MLB player at shortstop, just for the sake of consistency and playing the averages. I thought that was ridiculous. Maybe it works strictly on paper and for moneyball purposes, but if I'm going to pay for a ticket to a Major League baseball game, give me Ordonez 10 times out of 10. It's worth the price of admission just for the chance to see the guy make an unbelievable play at shortstop, even if he doesn't do much at the plate. (His lifetime batting average was .246, which isn't all that bad anyhow.)

Chelios, Chris 
Mr. Chelios played in the NHL until he was 48 years old. (FORTY EIGHT!) Now that I'm in my mid-40s, I appreciate what guys like he and Ichiro accomplished even more. Chelios is one of the greatest, most decorated US-born hockey players of all time, and it's amazing to think he almost decided to give up on the sport as a teenager. The first-ballot Hall-of-Famer made the All-Rookie team in 1984-85, is a 3x Stanley Cup winner, a 3x Norris Trophy winner, represented the United States in numerous Olympic tournaments, World Cups, and Canada Cups, and was named as one of the NHL's top 100 players a few years ago.

Kovalev, Alexei
I mentioned Kovalev as a compatriot of Sergei Nemchinov at the start of this post, so why not give him a letter of his own? Mr. Kovalev was a slick skater, great stickhandler, and had an incredible wrist shot. When I was a teenager, he was one of those guys who'd pull off a move during a game that we'd all try to imitate the next day when we played roller hockey down at the local park. He had some good success just about wherever he wentRangers, Penguins, Canadiensand many folks say he could have put up even more than his career total of 430 goals and 599 assists if not for the occasional lack of effort or interest.

Eckersley, Dennis
Just look at that photo. Vintage Eck. He's about to whip a backdoor slider past you for strike three to close out the game. Pretty good hair and mustache combo, too. As for accolades, the guy was phenomenal, just missing out on 200 wins (197) and 400 saves (390). I mean, sheesh. He could pitch. And I like his determination. He gave up that all-time classic, gut-wrenching home run to Kirk Gibson in the 1988 World Series, and came back the very next year to help Oakland win one of their own, saving 3 games against the Blue Jays in the ALCS and one more in the clinching game of the Championship against the Giants.

Trottier, Bryan 
When putting together hockey's all-time starting six (3 forwards 2 defensemen, 1 goalie), most folks would choose Gretzky or Lemieux as their center. Hard to argue with either of those choices, of course. But if those two titans weren't availableor even if they wereI might choose Trottier. The guy wasn't big or flashy, but he could do it all. Score goals, set up goals, lay big hits, defend against the other team's top players. He was the league leader in assists, points, and plus/minus in 1978-79. That means he outscoredand outplayedguys like Lafleur, Clarke, Dionne, and Esposito. Let's not forget to mention the huge part he played in leading the Islanders to four straight Stanley Cups. (And then helping the Penguins win their back-to-back titles in the early '90s.)


Smith, Ozzie 
Thirteen consecutive Gold Gloves at shortstop. Perennial All-Star. The backflip to start every home game. Member of The Baseball Bunch. And he proved that you could be a franchise player and fan favorite while hitting almost zero home runs. It's no wonder he was one of my favorite players when I was a kid in the '80s. I'm happy my blog name contained a letter S.

And that's my at-bat. Hope you enjoyed it. Who's up next?

Sunday, February 26, 2023

A Custom Softball Card Featuring a Guy Who Designs Custom Cards

A few months ago I shared a story on the blog of how I joined a corporate softball league back in 2018, which rekindled my love for the sport. I've been playing softball ever since.

With all the custom cards I've designed over the past few years, a couple of commenters in that blog post mentioned how they thought they were going to see a custom softball card featuring the guy who designs custom cards.

Well, I didn't share one in that post, but I do have one to share now.
There I am, featured "in action" during last year's softball season.
Note that my last name is not actually Ninepockets. I just figured it would be better for branding to use that name. Which brings me to the back of the card.

The In Action card backs from the original 1982 Topps set were divided into three sections: All Star, Championship Series, and World Series. As you might have guessed, each section featured highlights from the player's all star and playoff experiences to that point in their careers
To make the card back particular to Nine Pockets, I changed those three sections to Blog, Custom Cards, and Softball. Then I just filled in the text descriptions accordingly and added a link to the blog at the bottom. It's a good way to highlight this part of my life and what it's all aboutkind of like a business card or CV. (In fact, the next time I apply to a job in the creative field, maybe I'll hand out one of these cards along with my résumé.)

Thanks for reading as always, and let me know how you like the Nine Pockets custom in the comment section.

Sunday, February 19, 2023

Baseball in French, Lesson 3: Le Frappeur D'Urgence

Welcome to Baseball in French, Lesson 3. Previous lessons can be found here.
Today's term is le frappeur d'urgence.
In English, that translates to "emergency hitter". What's the baseball translation?

Pinch hitter.

Here's one of the best pinch-hitters of all time, proudly wearing the Expos colors on his 1971 O-Pee-Chee card.

Staub, popularly known in Montreal as Le Grande Orange for his ginger hair, put up exactly 100 pinch hits over his career, which at the time of this writing puts him at 19th on the all-time list. He's tied for the most pinch-hit RBI in a season (25) with Joe Cronin and Jerry Lynch.
As for the baseball terminology, I think this is a case where I like the English version better. Your team is in a pinch, and you need to bring a hitter off your bench to help you out. Hence, pinch hitter. Easy. Effective.
"Emergency hitter" is just a little too dramatic for me. It's not like you're in a Bugs Bunny cartoon where all your teammates are getting trounced so badly that they're being carried off the field on stretchers, and you've got to find someone from the crowd to go bat for the team.

How about you? Do you prefer pinch hitter or emergency hitter? Leave a comment below, and thanks for reading!

Sunday, February 12, 2023

PSA's First-Ever Gem Mint 11

There's some big news in the trading card world. The authentication and grading company PSA has logged its first-ever grade of Gem Mint 11. That's one higher than ever before.
This is even bigger news here at Nine Pockets Headquarters. 
Because it's one of my custom cards!
Here's the back:


I'm not sure if any other card will ever receive an 11, but even if one does at some point in the future, I can always say that I had a copy of the first. 

Now as much as I'd like to say that all of this is true, it's of course not a real submission. And that's not a real slab from PSA. 
It's the work of artist and photographer Robbie Augspurger, who did pick up a copy of my Spinal Tap custom card and, unbeknownst to me, decided to do the most clever and brilliant thing anyone has ever done with one of my customs.
I discovered the project on Robbie's instagram page, and contacted him to thank him for doing such a clever thing. He replied, and let me know how much he enjoyed working on the project. Then he asked me a question: 
Would I be interested in a PSA Gem Mint 11 copy of my own?
Yes. Absolutely. Yes.
Turns out he had a few additional blank slabs lying around.
I asked if I could send him some more custom cards in return, because there was no way I was going to accept such a rockin' gift without compensation. He happily selected a few additional customs from my list, and the deal was done.
And here's what arrived in my mailbox recently.
I'm not a collector of slabbed and graded cards, so this automatically becomes the best one in my collection. But who are we kidding? Even if I had some slabbed cards, this would still be my favorite.
For those of you who haven't seen the film This is Spinal Tap and are wondering what all the hubbub is about, here's a clip that will explain the Gem Mint 11 joke.

It's pretty cool that I can look at a fellow collector, hold up my Spinal Tap card from PSA, and just like Nigel Tufnel, say to them, This one goes to eleven.

Will that line ever get old? No. No it won't. And neither will my slabbed and graded Spinal Tap card.
If art and photography are your interests, please consider stopping by Robbie's website, or following him on instagram if you're so inclined.

And now a question for you readers and collectors/investors:
Should I hold onto the slabbed Spinal Tap card for a while, or sell it for a couple million dollars right now? The trading card market is still hot, after all.

Leave your suggestions in the comment section, and thanks for reading as always.

Sunday, February 5, 2023

This Custom Card Would Like Us to be Excellent to Each Other

Want to see two most excellent dudes on a custom card?

Okay, behold:

It's Bill S. Preston, Esquire, and Ted "Theodore" Logan. And together they are . . . WYLD STALLYNS!
The design is based on the team leaders/checklist cards from the 1983 Topps baseball set. And really, why wouldn't Bill and Ted have ended up in 1983 at some point on their time-traveling adventure, rubbing elbows with a couple of baseball stars of the time like Johnny Bench and Ozzie Smith? I can picture Bill or Ted seeing Ozzie and saying "Whoa, it's the wizard dude from baseball!" (As Ozzie proceeds to do a backflip, further impressing them.)
Anyway, more on the design: Of the various color combinations from the original set, I went with the neon blue and dark purple used for the Braves and Blue Jays, as those colors seemed like a good nod to the '80s era. It's a most triumphant scene with what could easily be the San Dimas High School baseball field in the background there, too. And I figured it was about time that the two members of Wyld Stallyns appeared on a trading card together. 

I must admit, however, that I failed to do any trading card research before setting off on the creative process this time. It turns out that in 1991 a company called Merlin produced a 128-card set featuring the two dudes (Bill & Ted's Totally Excellent Collector Cards), and in that very same year Pro Set released a 100-card set of their own (Bill & Ted's Most Atypical Movie Cards). 
So my Bill & Ted custom card is not as unique as I thought.
I still like it a lot, though. And to tie it back to baseball, "Wyld Stallyns" could very well be the name of a minor league baseball team from San Dimas, California, don't you think? I mean, you've got the Binghamton Rumble Ponies these days.

As for the actors themselves, Alex Winter (Bill S., Preston, Esq.) got his name out there a couple of years before the first Bill & Ted movie with a role as a vampire named Marko in The Lost Boys (1987). Along with Bill & Ted in 1989, Winter also earned some coolness points by appearing in a Red Hot Chili Peppers video ("Knock me Down"). He's also done voice-over work for a couple of Ben 10 animated films (2007, 2009), and has more recently gotten into the directing field, working on the 2020 film Zappa and 2022's The YouTube Effect.

And then there's Keanu Reeves (Ted "Theodore" Logan). To add another tie to the sports realm, early on in his acting career he played a goalie named "Heaver" who was teammate to Patrick Swayze and Rob Lowe in the hockey film Youngblood (1986). You might also know him as Johnny Utah in Point Break (1991), Jack Traven in Speed (1994), Neo in The Matrix series, and John Wick in the John Wick series. He's also known to be an overall good dude.
I haven't seen the other movies in the Bill & Ted franchise (Bogus Journey in 1991 and Face the Music in 2020), so I can only speak for the original Excellent Adventure when I say it's worth a watcheven if you already saw it back in 1989.
Aside from that, what's my only other advice?
Be excellent to each other. And party on, dudes!
Thanks for reading, as always.